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Nick Wolfe

Carrying cargoes on a historic narrowboat all year round, Nick Wolfe lives the life of a traditional working boater. He tells us about his experiences aboard Aldgate.

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Nick’s interest in the waterways started around 2000 when he used to de-stress from his job as a lorry driver by walking along the canals around his home at Long Buckby at Northamptonshire. After reading WW and Kit Gayford’s book, The Amateur Boatman, he developed an interest in waterways history and volunteered to crew working boats for heritage groups. 

In 2007, he acquired his own boat and was soon living aboard while he carried out restoration work. “My original intention was to use Aldgate for carrying cargo, which I was hoping would provide me with enough work to allow me to leave the rat race altogether,” Nick says. “Although this hasn’t quite happened, the boat has undoubtedly earned its keep and has transported some interesting cargoes over the years.” 

One of his more unusual assignments came in 2015 when he was tasked with taking a life-sized model of a horse from Stoke Bruerne Canal Museum to an Old Mortonians event at Hillmorton Locks. “The sight of a horse in the boat’s hold caused quite a stir going up Buckby Locks – so much so that a chap came out of his canalside cottage with an apple to feed it and said he’d never felt so foolish!” 

More general cargoes include steel pilling, chandlery items and firewood – indeed, firewood has become the mainstay of Nick’s carrying activity. His boating services also extend to towing broken-down boats for River Canal Rescue, and, away from Aldgate, moving people’s boats on their behalf (he has both RYA Helmsman and MCA Boatmaster qualifications.)

“Occasionally, when I have to make ends meet, I have to revert to my old job of lorry driving, which isn’t something I particularly relish. The roads are congested, it’s often stressful and I generally can’t wait to get back to my boat. I much prefer working for myself, even if that involves chopping up 10 tons of firewood, which I have been known to do. I don’t mind hard physical work – I often think I was born 50 years too late.”  

Read the full feature in February 2018 Waterways World